Parker Rose is a healthy 10-week-old baby girl today, but the hours leading up to her arrival were a little tense for her parents.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Home & Family host Mark Steines and his wife Julie chat about a harrowing phone call the then-mom-to-be received in July, when she found out she’d be delivering her baby girl a month early.
“I’m so grateful that I listened to myself. My doctor was on top of it and she said, ‘We’re going to take this blood work and see what it comes back,’ ” says Julie of the events that transpired after she reported feeling itching and burning sensations that worsened even after taking Benadryl.
“I called [the doctor] and she says to me, ‘When’s the last time you ate?’ And I thought, what? And she says, ‘We’re going to deliver the baby today,’ ” she continues, telling PEOPLE the blood work showed she had developed intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP): a condition where acids from the mother’s liver can lead to fetal distress or even death.
“So everything ended really abruptly and we were prepared but we weren’t, and that’s something that happens a lot in ICP — an early delivery — because it can be very dangerous for the baby,” Julie explains, calling her pregnancy “amazing” and “perfect” up “until it wasn’t.”
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Another indicator that something was amiss? The family’s pup Norbert — a 3½-lb. therapy dog that Julie takes to hospitals, schools and more to provide joy to those in need — was acting strangely around the then-mom-to-be.
“Mark said, ‘I’m going to give you a dose of your own medicine,’ and he goes over and he picks up Norbert and brings him over to me,” she recalls. “It was a special moment because I felt like that’s what Norbert does for other people, when we go to hospitals and visit.”
“I started smiling and it changed my whole demeanor, so I feel like he did have a sense of what was going on and he was actually really intuitive throughout the whole pregnancy in that way, which was kind of amazing,” adds Julie, 38.
The news preceding Parker’s debut was difficult to swallow and getting to the hospital had its hurdles, but the couple tells PEOPLE the delivery itself was fairly devoid of stress — even though Julie’s Cesarean section was considered an emergency.
“Getting the call a month early, roughly, it was so unexpected — there was no countdown, there was no, ‘Next week at this time, we’ll have a little baby here.’ It was like, ‘We’re going and this is happening now,’ ” says Mark, 53, who is also dad to sons Avery, 13, and Kai, 15, from a previous marriage.
“I remember driving home and traffic was horrible trying to get to Julie, and they wanted us at the hospital … and I just remember that drive home took forever,” he adds. “Then, as we were driving into [Cedars-Sinai Medical Center], I kept thinking to myself, ‘When I come home, we’re going to have a baby in our life.’ ”
“I thought, ‘This is [an] emergency C-section,’ and yet there was no emergency feel about it whatsoever,” Steines says. “We were both very calm, very peaceful, we went to the wrong parking structure, we kind of meandered our way in, nobody was panicked.”
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The challenges weren’t over after Parker’s birth, though. In fact, Julie couldn’t spend much time with her for several hours afterward.
“After she was born, they showed her to me and Mark captured that photo, [then] they cleaned her up and put her in my arms and I was holding her for the first time and looking at her, and then that’s when she started to have difficulty breathing and her oxygen level dropped,” she remembers.
“So the entire team were getting ready to discharge us from the operating room and then that happened, and the whole team and all these people came rushing back in and then took her away to the NICU,” she adds. “I wasn’t able to see her — except on FaceTime, which was nice — until 11 a.m. the next morning. That was really difficult.”
But those first moments were precious ones that Mark will cherish forever. “There’s an amazing photo of Julie seeing Parker for the first time, and being a journalist and a father before allowed me to take in that moment as a bystander but also a participant,” he recalls. “Seeing that connection between mother and baby was just so magical, and that’s a look and an expression and a moment I’ll never forget.”
Though the spouses had to wait to take Parker home after she spent 15 days in the NICU, she’s now “such a joy” to have in the house, says Mark, who jokes that the photographs he took of his daughter made her “the most documented baby in the history of Cedars-Sinai.”
“The boys, I think, are loving having a little sister,” he says.
“She’s so sweet and I feel like she’s a lot like Mark,” Julie shares. “She almost has a sense of humor, and makes all kinds of adorable faces and noises. And I think she is already developing into her own little person, which is absolutely magical to watch.”
For more on Mark and Julie Steines’ life as a family of five, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.